MADRID, Spain - Victoria Azarenka and Serena Williams battled past some very tricky semifinal opponents at the Mutua Madrid Open Saturday, setting up an absolute blockbuster final at the prestigious Premier-level tournament.
Azarenka, the No.1 seed, was the first to advance, continuing her domination of No.4 seed Agnieszka Radwanska with a 62 64 victory. Azarenka had won all five of their previous encounters this year and things went much the same this time as the World No.1 rolled through the first set in 29 minutes and fended off some late resistance from Radwanska to win the 50-minute second set too.
"Agnieszka has a different style - she likes to make you move, changes the pace and throws off your rhythm, and she's very good with her hands and tries to come in," Azarenka said. "I play more aggressively. I try to take control. We have different styles of game, and today I feel like I was playing very well.
"The second set it got a little bit more even today. I don't think I played that well during my service games but I was able to come back playing well right after on the return. I think it was a good match. I'm happy with how I played."
"It's always disappointing to lose, and it's too bad to keep losing against the same player, but she's No.1," Radwanska commented. "It's nice I've been able to beat every other player this year, and I have to look at the positives - it was a good week here. I'm looking forward to playing in Rome next week."
Radwanska was asked if she was looking forward to playing Azarenka again soon. "Yeah sure, maybe in a couple of months!" the World No.3 smiled.
The No.9-seeded Williams followed Azarenka into the final with a streaky 76(5) 60 victory over Lucie Hradecka, ending a breakthrough run that had seen the big-serving Czech qualifier score her first two Top 10 wins over Petra Kvitova and Sam Stosur and reach by far the biggest WTA semifinal of her career.
After a tight 56-minute first set that saw no breaks of serve and Williams just sneak out the tie-break, the second set was a complete contrast, with the 13-time Grand Slam champion baking up a bagel in just 24 minutes.
"She served amazing in the first set," Williams said. "I came through in tie-break, and after that I was able to relax, make less errors and make some shots. I was more aware in the second set. I think that helped me."
Williams not only improved to 12-0 on clay for the season and assured herself of returning to No.6 in the world on the new rankings, but she also improved her near-perfect career record against Czech players to 32-1, the only blemish coming in the first round of Marbella three years ago to Klara Zakopalova.
Hradecka was still thrilled with her week. "In one week I think I've gotten more points than I did the first half of the year," the 26-year-old Czech said. "It was a great week for me, my first time in Madrid, and I played very well. I beat two Top 10 players, both Grand Slam champions, which is very good for my mind. I know I can play with the top players now. It will be very good for me."
And Williams' reaction to returning to No.6? "Get out... yes!" she exclaimed in the press room. "Well I've reached my goal. I didn't think I would reach it that fast. I'm obviously excited about that because I've been working really hard, but I don't want to stop at No.6. I want to continue doing better and better."
Williams leads Azarenka in their head-to-head, 6-1, the only loss there coming in the final of Miami in 2009, where Williams was visibly hampered by injury (incidentally, just days after losing that final in Miami to Azarenka she lost the aforementioned first round match in Marbella to Zakopalova).
"She's one of the best players in the world and one of the toughest opponents to play against," Azarenka said of Williams. "We've played a lot of matches and I was young - I was just coming on the tour, but I was always competitive with her. So it's going to be a different story. We had a very good match at the US Open last year, so I can take some positive things out of that one."
"Victoria has been so consistent," Williams said. "She is so consistent, so amazing and just so nearly perfect. I am going into the final with nothing to lose. She's the top-ranked player and she's going in there with everything to win."
Williams is 12-11 against World No.1s - the only active player with more is Venus Williams, who is 13-19. No one else has more than six wins.
This will be the pair's first career meeting on clay courts.